Sanford Hospice makes great end-of-life care possible

“She always made sure we had everything we need. We wanted to do the same for her.”

By: Kay Todd .

Joan Hirt
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Joan Hirt always looked out for everyone else. She made sure her four children and many grandkids and great-grandkids had everything they needed.

She thought of herself last, and struggled to let others take care of her.

“She was a really caring person, mild-mannered and a hard worker,” said her son, Bob Hirt. “She loved her family and her black lab, Zoey.”

Joan, from Bemidji, Minnesota, passed away at 77 in August 2017. Her family worked to make her final days the best they could be, returning the generous care she had always bestowed upon others.

“She always made sure we had everything we need,” Bob said. “We wanted to do the same for her.”

Sanford Bemidji Home Care and Hospice, one of several Sanford Health Hospice Care locations, helped the family make sure that happened.

Best possible care

“If it wasn’t for hospice, we would have been completely lost,” Bob said. “Mom wanted to be at home, so we accommodated that, but we never would have been able to without hospice.”

Joan’s health started declining in 2015 after a colon cancer diagnosis. She underwent surgery, but the cancer continued to spread, attacking her liver next. She underwent chemotherapy, but with preexisting heart disease, she suffered two heart attacks.

“Mom always thought her heart would be as strong as an ox,” Bob said. “She was a fighter and kept fighting until the end.”

Joan was reluctant to enter hospice, but the family immediately saw the benefit. Bob, his siblings -– Mike Hirt, Jim Hirt and Jenny Jones -– and their extended family worked in shifts so someone was with Joan 24/7, but they didn’t know how to care for her medically. Hospice stepped in to take care of those needs and make sure Joan was as comfortable as possible.

“Everybody we encountered with hospice was first-class and top-notch,” Bob said. “They organized everything for us and made sure we had what we needed to make her comfortable. We couldn’t change what was going to happen, but hospice certainly made it a lot easier.”

The family, including Joan, developed a close relationship with Sanford Hospice nurse Ken Smith.

“Ken was honest and professional but gentle at the same time,” Bob said. “He would joke around with mom and make her feel at ease, but he was serious when he needed to be. He truly tried to make the experience the best it could be for us.”

Peace and comfort

When Joan passed, it was in the comfort of her own home, surrounded by family. Hospice had helped prepare the family for what would happen, and left them with a sense of peace, knowing they cared for their beloved matriarch in the best way possible.

“We were so grateful to have hospice right here at our fingertips,” Bob said. “It’s unbelievable what we have access to here in Bemidji and the care Sanford Health provides.”

Hospice helps bring dignity, comfort and compassion to people. Through a gift to the Sanford Health Foundation, donors can support hospice care like Joan received this Memorial Day.

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